Prayer: Our Greatest Work
March 19, 2020
By Nigel Pollock
This year I have been taking a fresh look at the story of Nehemiah. There is much to learn about leadership, vision, rebuilding, facing opposition and mobilising people. All of this I find helpful in my own leadership transition with InterVarsity Canada, especially in the way that prayer plays a central role in the ancient story.
When he hears news of the state of Jerusalem in chapter 1, Nehemiah immediately turns to prayer. He acknowledges The Lord’s sovereignty, remembers God’s promises, confesses the people’s sin and asks for God’s help.
When the king asks him what is troubling him in chapter 2, Nehemiah prays before answering the question and making some requests.
When facing opposition in chapter 4, Nehemiah brings the situation to God. This is the first example of Nehemiah speaking to God in the midst of what is going on. There seems to be a consciousness of the presence of God in the rhythm of life.
GOD IS FAITHFUL
By the time the walls are completed, the gates in place and Ezra has read the scroll there is another recorded more formal prayer in chapter 9. They reflect on God’s goodness and faithfulness, confess their sins and ask for mercy and deliverance. The prayer has a similar structure to what Nehemiah prayed in chapter 1 but is now amplified and shared by the whole assembly of God’s people.
In the words of Corrie Ten Boom: “Is prayer your steering wheel or your spare tyre?” For Nehemiah, prayer is front and centre in all that he is and does. It drives his leadership rather than being a back up resort in a time of crisis. Nehemiah lives prayer as an intrinsic part of his life and leadership.
A fellow Scot, Oswald Chambers, famously said: “Prayer does not fit us for the greater work; prayer is the greater work.”
If we are to really give our utmost for his highest, it can only happen through prayer. As a movement, we are called anew to seek God’s face as well as his hand. We need more of God. Unless the Lord builds the house, the workers labour in vain. We can only move forward by the grace of God, through the power of God, by the Spirit of God.
GOD HEARS US
I share these thoughts and this call to prayer not as a great prayer warrior. My prayers are far from adequate and my commitment to pray intermittent. Nevertheless, in our feeble attempts I know that God meets us and that prayer does not work because of the quality of our intercession but the divine nature and sovereign power of the one who hears us. I believe that God can supply what we need, I believe he can do more than we can hope for or even, imagine and that God is working out his purposes through human history.
If the Lord had not been on our side, we would not be here today. Let us come to him afresh: acknowledging his majesty, remembering his faithfulness, confessing our sins, rejoicing in his grace and seeking his mercy and help together.
Nehemiah has a heart for the glory of God. It is his key motivation. The walls are rebuilt but God has a higher purpose in rebuilding the people. As we seek God’s help to work through us, let’s pray for each other that he might also work in us.